posted 9 Aug 2001 in Volume 5 Issue 1
Tony Mosely reviews Living Strategy
TITLE: Living Strategy
AUTHOR: Lynda Gratton
PUBLISHER: Financial Times Prentice Hall 2000
How refreshing to discover a book with new answers on how to be successful where you find the logic to be inescapably true. This is no Tom Peters’ ‘exaggerated approach to make us listen’. This is a genuine treatise on what is needed this century backed by research on what some great companies have done. Companies like HP Glaxo Wellcome Philips Lighting Citibank and Motorola have made some key strategic decisions based on people that have served them well.
These real life examples of successful companies show how important it is for employees to talk the same vision as their leaders. The effect of the ‘unwritten rules of the game’ in companies is explored. Gratton explains that the soul of an organisation can be represented by trust inspiration and commitment. Too often companies overlook these. HP provides a fascinating case study of how not to ignore them at a time of downsizing.
We have for too long attributed success to the skills of the leader. Reading this book brings home how important it is to involve all the people in the entire organisation. Gratton describes her technique of ‘visioning’. Involving a wider group of people in building the vision of the future is key to success. In this way she has seen the creation of groups of people energised to build the knowledge and skills to get there.
The book is constructed in three parts together with a final part that can be used as a workbook. The first part is devoted to creating the understanding of why there has to be a new agenda. The thesis that “companies that will flourish in this decade will do so because they are able to provide meaning and purpose a context and from that encourage individual potential to flourish and grow”.
The Leading Edge Research Consortium which Gratton has run provides many of the background examples. Glaxo Wellcome’s ability to bring products to market more quickly was a direct result of its change in people strategy. This involved getting people to work closely across functions and trusting each other. Major organisational change was required to make this happen. Another example quoted is Motorola which identified a future shortage of skilled workers and management in China and so created a Motorola University in Beijing. The result has been a loyal management cadre of talent. I would call these classic examples of planning ahead but how many companies would be willing to consider the people issues required so fully?
Lynda follows up the new agenda of putting people at the heart of corporate purpose with three tenets that she explains more fully in part two. The first tenet is that ‘we operate in time’. While this seems to be a very trivial point the book does bring out a very interesting failing in our ability to plan. We spend so much time in the present – we always plan the future starting from our current position. What we should be doing is visualising the future and then planning how to get there.
The second tenet is ‘we reach for meaning’. The biggest lesson that emerges from this section is that this is a very human thing. Hence it is vital that people are continually reminded of the purpose of the organisation. Gratton says: “Having spent many years wandering around Hewlett Packard I think I would be a millionaire by now if I had a dollar for every story I heard about Dave and Bill.” It reminded me of one of the reasons why religions last so much longer than companies – the story telling. Shared meaning must be a powerful way to keep people working in the same direction.
The third tenet is ‘we have a soul’. Identifying that each of us has a deep sense of personal identity we need to be inspired by our work. When we are inspired we become more creative. Hewlett Packard is again used as an example where people are involved in decisions about themselves and their organisation. This is said to reflect the fundamental beliefs of the founding partners about the way people should be treated.
I think that these tenets are where the book scores so highly. They might seem to be spurious aspects plucked out of a psychologist’s dissertation but together they pull together some real insights into how we should manage an organisation that has people within it.
There are some lovely quotes in the book like: “If you don’t look forward to tomorrow you’ve nothing to look forward to.”
Lynda has her own six steps to creating a living strategy in part three:
- Building a guiding coalition;
- Imagining the future;
- Understanding current capabilities and identifying the gaps;
- Creating a map of the system;
- Modelling the dynamics of the vision;
- Bridge into action. The journey continues…
For those wishing to apply this approach there are a series of guiding principles for each along with tools and techniques. Philips Lighting is used as a detailed case study to support these.
A reviewer on the dust jacket says: “The book will become a classic for HR professionals and a toolkit for line managers.” I sincerely hope that this prediction comes true.
Tony Mosely is the executive director of the Society of Consumer Affairs Professionals. He can be contacted at: email@example.com